When the opportunity to visit a country, you’ve heard of but never really thought about before arises, there really is only one option, go and check it out. From the initial conversations with Steve Venton, Kingfisher Journey’s owner and director, to flying out of London on a very cold, wet December morning was only about three weeks. If I’m honest, I was initially a little sceptical – was this really going to happen? However, after a virtual meeting with Steve, I was all in – his enthusiasm and passion for his company and the people that made it was exciting and inspirational.
A group enjoying The Mukungwa River
The element of the project that really resonated with me was the parallels I could draw between Kingfisher Journeys and Channel Training surrounding staff recruitment. Both companies could, if we wanted, just employ qualified staff on short term contracts – but have made the decision to employ and train local people – for us we’re a rurally isolated seaside town on the edge of Exmoor and Kingfisher Journeys, based in Rwanda where the locals have never seen, let alone paddled a canoe or kayak. It is by no means the easy or cheap option, but what it does do is grow local talent, support local business and families and presents a career pathway that otherwise wouldn’t exist for people living within those communities. I’d would wholly recommend that UK companies explore this option as an alternative to ready-made instructors, growing a pool of instructors that live where your company is based has huge advantages.
Gratian, one of the Kingfisher Guides on a one of the preparation days
Kingfisher Journeys has been about for nearly three years based solely in Rwanda, run by Steve, a very experienced paddler from the UK that has, up to now carried out all of the guides training. As the business has grown and Steve is getting more bookings from schools, colleges and other organisations, the requirement for a more formal recognition of competence was needed. This time last year there wasn’t an appropriate leadership qualification for the guides to be involved in, but as of from April 2017 with the launch of the Paddlesport Leader Award, there was now a qualification tailor made for sheltered water, something Rwanda has lots of!
Steve had already trained the guides; Eloi, Sandrine, Gratian and Francois to a high standard in both canoe and kayak, in terms of leadership, safety and incident management – so consequently went direct to assessment. The assessment venues were ideal – the Mukungwa River, a slow-moving meandering river through the beautiful Rwandan countryside and Lake Kivu, one of the African Great Lakes approximately 90km bisected by the Democratic Republic of Congo’s border. Both venues offered opportunities for the guides to demonstrate their skills and abilities with the groups we had organised for the assessment, in a very real context.
Happily, three of Kingfishers four main guides successfully passed their assessment and will go on to lead groups from all over the world on Lake Kivu, the Mukungwa River and potentially some exciting new locations in the near future.
A fantastic achievement for everyone involved and I feel very privileged to have been involved in the guides journey. As an added bonus, this was the first International Paddlesport Leader course delivered outside of the UK.
5 Great things about Rwanda
- The People – Rwandans are just really lovely, always happy to help, always smiling and very calm and relaxed in just about everything they do.
- The Birds – If you’re into your birds or even if you’re not, you can’t help but be blown away with the sheer abundance and variety of bird life everywhere.
- Plastic Bags are illegal, not just not available, illegal and I can honestly say I didn’t see one plastic bag in over two weeks of being there.
- Woman’s Equality – Rwanda has made a huge investment in providing equal opportunities in terms of employment, education and health for women. There are 59 women out of 106 seats in the Rwandan Parliament, the highest percentage in the world!
- Fruit – Rwanda’s climate, relatively high altitude and rich volcanic soil means just about every conceivable fruit grows here year-round and they all taste amazing, bananas in the UK will never be same again for me!
- ……just one more, African Tea – Rwanda also grows fantastic tea – African Tea is black tea leaves, milk and freshly grated root ginger, boiled, then strained and t honey (which is also amazing) added afterwards to taste. I’ve tried making it at home but it’s just not the same…I’ll have to go back!